Three Jazz Women

by Richelle Kimble • photography by Two Eagles Marcus

It can both soothe and light fire to a soul. It can be spiritual or enlightening, riling or lively. In a performance, jazz is potently enthralling, connecting the performer to the audience in a mystifying way. It’s medicinal to some, and fun to everyone.

In Grand Rapids, the jazz scene boomed with the rest of the nation in the 1900s. Well-known venues like Club Indigo (Roma Hall) housed musicians and fanatics in the 30s and 40s, and Fountain Street Church hosted big names such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald in the 60s. The spirit of jazz is engraved into Grand Rapids’ history, and it continues to grow today with the aid of incredible performers and dedicated listeners. The current jazz scene is popular at festivals and lunchtime concerts, but there are also lesser-known, romantically lit venues that bring in incredibly talented performers on a regular basis.

To fuel your ardor for jazz—whether it’s bebop jazz, cool jazz, Dixieland, free jazz, nu jazz or anything in between—Kathy Lamar, Mary Rademacher Reed, and Edye Evans Hyde share their contagious ebullience in a Q&A with Women’s LifeStyle.

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Kathy Lamar

She began singing in her youth choir at the age of 8, and since has embarked on a 40-year journey as a vocalist. Thirty of those years were spent performing in Las Vegas after a two-week vacation turned into a career. Lamar returned to Grand Rapids in 2009, and delved into the local music scene. Her infectious smile and captivating voice has also been seen in Japan, China, Taiwan and Singapore. Before seeing her live, get to know her sound with her most recent album, Songs for Elsa.

Is there anything specific you bring or wear to every performance?
Lipstick.

How would you describe your vocalist style?
True. I do jazz, but I’m not a jazz singer. I do blues, but I’m not a blues singer. I do my style. I’m a “me style!”

Do you have a quote or phrase that’s influencing your life right now?
“And the beat goes on,” sang by Sunny and Cher. You know, things happen and you can’t control it, but you do the best you can, because the beat goes on. And, I always end everything—emails, Facebook posts—with “peace and love.” It’s calming to me to share that with people. We all need that in every way.

In your opinion, what role has/does jazz music, or music in general, play in the development of culture in Grand Rapids?
Huge. It’s very important, I think, for mind body and soul. I do believe that in my heart. I wish there was more diversity in the culture and style of music.

Describe your most memorable performance.
There’s been several! There was this one with Wayne Newton at the Washington, D.C. Monument on the fourth of July. They usually have the Beach Boys, but this year they had Wayne. There were people as far as I could see. A sea of people. I did a duet with him, and it was kind of corny, but we sang This Land is Your Land and I started off solo with just rubato. I remember vividly the roar of all those people.

What’s your favorite song of all time to sing?
Today, my favorite is Fragile by Sting. It’s serious, and he wrote this song after his friends were killed in a bombing. It goes on to say people are fragile and life is fragile.

Why do you sing?
Because that’s what I was born to do. It makes me feel wonderful, alive and helpful. I think I help people when I sing. (That’s what they say, anyway, and that makes me feel good.) I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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Mary Rademacher Reed

“I think that’s one of my main purposes of being here on this earth—to make people happy through music.” – Mary Rademacher Reed

Reed began her professional vocalist career in 1982 immediately after graduating college. Her passion for performance led her to several artistic pursuits including a national tour, theatre choreographing and ensemble work, freelance acting, voice talent, singing telegrams and more. She’s versatile in her talents, but impeccable at them all. Her sixth and most recent album is called Whopee!

Name three of your favorite jazz artists (yes, we know it’s difficult).
Ella Fitzgerald— probably the best singer and scatter of all time. Mel Torme—he taught me style and perked my ears to listen between the cracks (and we share the same birthday). Dianne Reeves—so solid, yet so sensitive. Always growing, innovating, expressive, and creative.

Describe your most memorable performance.
The Boogie Woogie Babies (our female vocal trio) were playing a simple library concert in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan a few years back. We were doing mainly 1940’s WWII music and our audience reflected that era in time. We always sing I’ll Be Seeing You towards the end, and there was an almost instantaneous audible sorrow and weeping from the crowd. Many, we found out later, were Holocaust survivors, even showing us their ID tattoos. We all had trouble even finishing the song, it was such an emotional wave of memories and sadness emanating from these people.

How would you describe your vocalist style?
Versatile. I’m such a mixed bag, depending on the style of music I’m singing. I have done theatre, folk, jazz, novelty, gospel, blues and country. I started writing a little parody to Mambo No. 5… “A little bit of Bonnie Raitt in my soul, a bit of swinging Ella doh dee oh doh, a big belt of Liza singing Show and a lotta crazy Bette now, don’t you know!”

What would you tell an aspiring artist about going into the music business?
Go to school. Get educated. Listen. Listen. Practice. Practice. Go where you can sit in. Be vulnerable. If you don’t try, you won’t grow. Be assertive. Be polite. Follow up. Be humble. Don’t compare yourself to anyone—but learn from the mecca of styles and variety out there. Hustle.

Do you have a quote or phrase that’s influencing your life right now?
“Just say Hello.” I recently wrote a song with that title. My first one! I truly feel a whole world opens up to you if you just take the time to say ‘hello’ to the person next to you in line, on a plane, on a walk, in a restaurant, etc. I’ve had the most interesting experiences, stories and small world moments shared, and even made new friends that way.

Why do you sing?
It fills my heart and feeds my soul. When someone tells me, “I forgot I was 80 for an hour” or that they were moved in some way, I’m in heaven. I know I’ve done my job. I think that’s one of my main purposes of being here on this earth—to make people happy through music.

Is there anything specific you bring or wear to every performance?
Well, I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve.

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Edye Evans Hyde

Hyde’s 40-year vocalist career has graced her with the opportunity to share the stage with renowned artists in various locations including West Michigan, Los Angeles, Asia and Europe. In addition to her singing career, she launched the Ebony Road Players theater company and has taught jazz and contemporary music classes at Hope College. Snag her most recent album, Magic in His Eyes, for a taste of her versatile sound.

What were your early influences as a young musician?
As a young person, I was influenced musically by music artists such as Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, The Jacksons, Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughn, Dionne Warwick, James Brown, The Beatles, Edwin Hawkins, Bobby Gentry, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Campbell… shall I go on? In college, I was classically trained. So that’s a whole other list.

What’s your favorite aspect of the music culture in Grand Rapids?
The artistic diversity we are currently experiencing is awesome. Young people are creating new music and incorporating other genres that pay homage to the past and excitement of the future. Artists are aware of our social and political environment as well. They are making their voices heard through music.

Describe your most challenging gig ever (for better or worse).
Actually it was a theatrical production I did called Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. It was a one-woman play with the music of Billie Holiday. It was scary playing her, yet I loved every moment.

Who is, in your opinion, the most awesome person you’ve performed with?
I’m not kissing up, but it’s my husband. He is a brilliant musician and he makes me look and sound good!

What would you tell an aspiring artist about going into the music business?
You must love it passionately. You must be willing to be the best you can be at your instrument. Learn how to communicate with other musicians (learn theory, learn piano or guitar). Take the word “business” to heart. Your talent is your business—treat it as such.

What do you do to express yourself other than singing?
I love theater. It is a way for me to express my history. It is also a great way to make a statement on social justice issues. It is also a way for others to share stories with me.

Name three of your favorite jazz artists (yes, we know it’s difficult).
Yes, this is hard. But today I choose Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Do you have a quote or phrase that’s influencing your life right now?
There is a wonderful quote be George Gershwin, “Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.”

Find these three women, and many other incredible Grand Rapids performers, at local venues and beyond. Visit wmichjazz.org/calendar.com for a list of upcoming performances.


Richellekimble

When she’s not editing for WLM, Richelle enjoys exploring, traveling, writing, reading, cooking, learning and playing. Follow her for adventure inspiration: @richelle.kimble

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